TLS Touchstones #10: A Tale of Two Sciences

“Flammarion engraving,” author unknown; first documented appearance was in Camille Flammarion’s 1888 book L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (“The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology”)

TLS Touchstones #10:
A Tale of Two Sciences

In its most literal denotation the word “science” comes from a Latin verb (a fourth-conjugation verb, to be precise— as our Second & Third Form Latin students could tell you). The verb is scio, scīre, and its lexical meaning is very simple: “to know.” It’s a short verb with a short meaning, and yet it contains multitudes. Little wonder it is that the term “science” properly speaking applies to every human endeavor after knowledge. Writers on education (i.e. classical education) such as John Henry Newman and R. W. Livingstone (who wrote in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, respectively) speak of “the sciences” in reference to what we would likely nowadays call different “subjects”: history, geography, chemistry, mathematics, etc. Though the object of study in each of the aforementioned is different, they are all united in this: each is an attempt to gain or obtain knowledge. Newman famously referred to theology as the “Queen of the Sciences” (though he was not the first to do so), inasmuch as it governed all of the other human endeavors after knowledge, establishing for each one its proper relation to all of the others and, more importantly, its proper relation to the whole.

In the current pedagogical era, which is still largely “progressivist” in its understanding of the human person and the educational task, an understanding of science has gained ascendancy which is much narrower than what I’ve just described. This understanding is not wrong so far as it goes; however, it does not go far enough. At its heart is one kind of reasoning…but only one, unfortunately. God’s gift of reason has a twofold aspect (at least twofold— I’m oversimplifying a bit), and the higher and more advanced form of reasoning requires a firm grounding in the basic and more fundamental form. As methods, both can properly be called “science.”

Deduction is the science of deriving conclusions which necessarily follow from certain premises, and thus also the science of distinguishing valid arguments from invalid ones. Induction is the science of forming hypotheses based on observable data. Deduction is concerned with validity and certainty; it is the more fundamental of the two. Induction is concerned with probability and functionality; it is more advanced. As we exercise and develop our God-given gift of reason, we ought to work at becoming competent scientists with respect to both. Unfortunately, however, the progressivist model of education has entirely neglected deduction— which (I will now let slip) is what we usually call “logic”— and gone whole-hog in the direction of induction— which alone receives the blandishment “science” in its taxonomy. This is a little like attempting to frame walls for a house without ever bothering to lay a foundation. A house most certainly needs walls, but it needs a foundation, too. More to the point, it needs a foundation first!

Progressive education’s neglect of deduction at the expense of induction has not resulted in “no logic, but great science”; it has resulted in “no logic, and poor science,” in the same way that walls framed overtop bare earth are simply not good walls, no matter what virtues they might have by themselves. Moreover, modern “science” cannot help but encroach on the territory of logic: when you learned the “scientific method” as a child, what did you learn as the last step? “Conclusion”— after you test your hypothesis, you “conclude” regarding the matter. While this is a fun way to go through a Janice van Cleave book of chemistry projects, the truth is that science as induction cannot conclude; it can only hypothesize. Only deduction can conclude, and only when certain conditions are met. If nothing else, this goes to show how we look for certainty in the wrong places!

In conclusion (or something like it): let it never be said that Trinity Lutheran School is “anti-science”! We are pro-science, and to a degree that the public schools will never attain— never, at least, unless they adopt a classical curriculum (even then, they wouldn’t have the Queen of the Sciences). The fact that a smaller percentage of time is devoted to the natural sciences in our class schedules— and in our curriculum map— is by no means an indication of antipathy toward these subjects. On the contrary! Every day here at Trinity, we improve upon the foundation which will firmly ground and equip students to engage in the task of higher reasoning in due time. With that said, our students are sampling its first fruits even now: our sciences classes are thick with wonder-inducing observation, fun and engaging lessons, and exciting experimentation. Our schoolchildren engage God’s creation with their senses and are led to contemplate with their minds the wonderful way in which all things hold together in Him. And because we actually teach the basic, more fundamental form of reasoning here at Trinity— our upper school students take a class in formal logic— they will be better off when it comes time to engage more fully in the inductive “scientific” task. There is no rush here— indeed, there is the opposite of a rush— for, as our students know from Aesop, “Slow and steady wins the race.” Or, to use the maxim of Carl Jung: omnis festinatio ex parte diaboli est, “All haste is of the devil.” (I wish I had a different source for that one, but even a broken clock is right twice a day…) 

God’s blessings to you this November and always.


Your servant in Christ,